The Dominion Post
One of the great All Blacks captains who led
One selfless act after he had hung up his boots defined Sir Brian Lochore as one of the All Blacks’ greatest captains. The outstanding No 8 had retired to his Wairarapa farm after the All Blacks’ 1970 series defeat in South Africa – as bitter a disappointment then as losing a World Cup final would be now.
Lochore was still only 30 when he retired, passing the captaincy to Colin Meads. But the All Blacks were struggling in 1971 against the British and Irish Lions and when Auckland lock Peter Whiting was ruled out of the third test, coach Ivan Vodanovich knew who he needed to lock the scrum with Meads. Vodanovich patched a call to Eketahuna on Friday – a day before kickoff at Athletic Park.
Lochore did not blink. He
fished out his footy boots, packed his bag and slapped a short, succinct note on the fridge to wife Pam: ‘‘Gone to Wellington, playing in the Test tomorrow’’.
So, Brian James Lochore caught the train to the capital to link arms with Meads in the heart of the All Blacks scrum.
Had Hollywood secured the movie rights, Lochore’s comeback would have ended in a pyrrhic triumph, with the reluctant hero dotting down the winning try.
Instead, the Lions won 13-3 to deny the All Blacks a series victory. As John Dawes and his tourists popped the champagne corks, Lochore had a quiet beer and slipped back into retirement.
A recently retired player today might think twice about a comeback tarnishing their ‘‘brand’’. There was never any hesitation from Lochore. He knew he was on a hiding to nothing and he had hardly played lock, but he could not let New Zealand down.
Only Buck Shelford (96 per cent), Richie McCaw (89 per cent) and Kieran Read (86) of longterm All Blacks captains have had better win ratios than Lochore. There are plenty of parallels there.
Shelford, who never lost in 14 tests as captain (13 wins and a draw) was a tough, no-nonsense over-the-advantage line No 8 out of the Lochore mould.
McCaw and Lochore were intelligent, humble farm boys who proved calm in a crisis. Both faced and surmounted significant captaincy challenges.
McCaw was still a young captain when the All Blacks suffered their worst World Cup result – a quarterfinal exit to France in Cardiff in 2007. He rebounded to lead his team to two World Cup titles.
Lochore’s assignment also had a Mission Impossible element. He had to take over from Wilson Whineray, a natural-born leader who became a New Zealand business baron.
Whineray had captained the All Blacks to 22 wins in 30 test matches between 1958 and 1965 – a 78 per cent success rate.
Replacing Whineray could have been a poisoned chalice. Yet Lochore stepped up to the command post and cranked an already accomplished team up another gear.
Lochore forged one of the greatest coach-captain duos with Fred Allen as the All Blacks dominated the rugby world between 1966 and 1969.
Lochore led the All Blacks to a series win over the British and Irish Lions in 1966, a successful tour of Britain and France in 1967, a series victory in Australia in 1968 and a home series win over France the same year and a convincing 1969 home stand against Wales.
He led, by inspiration and perspiration, one of the greatest of All Blacks forwards packs with Meads, Kel Tremain, Ken Gray, Waka Nathan and Bruce McLeod among his support cast.
It was a different era – Lochore quipped at Meads’ 2017 funeral that ‘‘modern day players hydrate before the game, we hydrated after the game, and quite quickly afterwards too’’.
The All Blacks of the 1960s were as dominant and ruthless as today’s team. In a squad full of provincial captains there was never any debate about who would skipper the side.